7 tips for photographing a first look


If you are new to the wedding world, you may not have heard of the term the First Look. This is a relatively contemporary concept, & occurs when the bride & groom opt to see each other in their wedding clothes before the ceremony.

As a photographer, I can give you many reasons why you should consider doing a First Look. As a former bride, I can tell you why you simply must do a First Look. 

1 // Location

When I’m doing a First Look, I pick out a location that is far enough away from the hustle & bustle of staff, early arriving guests, & family members. I want this moment to be just between the bride & the groom. Yes, I will be there, so that’s when I stick on my zoom lens & back away as far as possible while still able to clearly see faces.

2 // Prep the Groom

Once the groom is in his spot, I tell him that his beautiful bride will be walking up behind him. I tell him that the bride will either be tapping him on the shoulder, hugging him from behind, or something else. I let her decide. I then tell him to either turn to the left or right, depending on where I’m standing. If I’m off to his right, I want him turning to his right so I can see his full expression. (I also tell the bride which direction I want the groom to turn.)

I then tell the groom to forget everything I said, & to focus purely on his bride.

I tell him it’s ok if he turns to the left, when I said right. This is their moment. I want them to be focused only on each other & not on the camera.

This usually means that the groom has to stand & hang out here while I go get the bride. That's ok. Guys' jobs on wedding days are to carry things when asked, & to wait.

3 // Pick MY Spot

If I'm shooting by myself, I need to pick a spot that will enable me to see both the bride & the groom well. My goal is to be at a 90­° angle when the groom has turned around. Sometimes this requires me running to a different spot if the groom didn’t turn as I anticipated.

If I have a second shooter, we position ourselves so I'm focused on one & she's focused on the other person. When the groom turns, we switch people. For example, if I'm focused on the groom as the bride walks up, I switch to the bride when he turns around.

4 // Let go of the moment

I then let go of the moment & put the action entirely in their hands. I let her walk up to him. I let him turn on his own. I let them hug, kiss, laugh, admire each other for however long they take. Then, when they are ready, one of them turns to acknowledge that I am there, & we proceed with their portraits. All in all, the whole process takes about five minutes.

5 // Don’t Ruin their moment

At one wedding, I had no choice but to stand about five feet away from the couple during their First Look because it was raining. I had given each of them their instructions, but because I wasn’t able to back way out of the picture (pun!) they couldn’t forget that I was there. So, instead of focusing on each other, the bride said several times as she walked up behind him, to make sure he turned to his left. While I really appreciated her dedicated-ness to my instructions, I felt like I ruined their moment.

6 // Learn from others

If you’re like me, you’ve probably second shot for other photographers a time or two. It’s always fun to see how others work firsthand & to learn from how they do things.

One photographer I’ve worked with in the past had a tendency to give her instructions to the bride & groom during the First Look. It was almost like she was directing a magazine photo shoot. Ok, she’s walking up behind you. Ok, Bride, tap him on his right shoulder. Groom, turn to your right. Now kiss! Great! 

I’ll be honest. This kind of bothered me. To me, she was taking away from the moment. It was no longer natural but very, very scripted. It was purely about the photographs & not the couple. 

On the other hand, some photographers like to stand so far away from the couple that you can’t even see expressions at all. I believe in happy mediums.

7 // Find your Rhythm to work quickly

These moments are so fun, but sometimes difficult to capture because they do happen so incredibly quickly & you can’t replicate them. Figure out your rhythm & come up with a plan of attack that works for both you & the couple.